Nobody wanted to do the dishes. Wendy and her guests lounged at the dining table, talking, privately enjoying the mess they had made and the bottles they had emptied. Keith had brought gifts for the children in a cardboard box, more things, John had said, that they could have wrapped and put under the tree to save money, but lay helter-skelter now around the house. Daniel had lucky-dipped a game console, some old show-bag type thing that wouldn’t hold a candle to the ones the boys had at school, and wouldn’t play until he searched every drawer in the house for triple A batteries, but nonetheless kept him occupied and the rest in the house tired at the exotic beeps and cheap Chinese melodies. Macy was more pleased than all the children with her gift—a doll with a little fishing hat and vest, with wellingtons and a bucket for fish. She called him “Old Dinosaur” although the face wasn’t old by anyone’s reckoning, and Macy’s insistence that he be called Old Dinosaur (not Greg, Conrad, Mel, Jase or Maverick) was amusing to everyone.
“Where’d you pick up Old Dinosaur from anyway, Keith?” said John, surprised to find them still discussing the doll after returning from the cellar.
“Fishing tournament. It was thrown in as a joke as I recall, sitting around damn near a decade collecting dust and cobwebs. And I hand it down to you,” he added, gesturing with an open hand to a round of laughs.
That night Wendy couldn’t sleep. She had indigestion from the pierogis, but she also couldn’t stop thinking about Old Dinosaur. The bright-eyed fisherman, cleaned and stitched, slept in her daughter’s arms. Wendy had a distrust of any inanimate object of affection for Macy. They would begin to be imbued with a kind of life in a way she hadn’t been able to explain in words, like they had faces—even a streamer she attached to a stick and waved around like a bad ballet dancer, a plastic recorder, the cardboard pillbox for a new set of pogs her brother had gotten—they became larger in a sense, as though they took up more space in the house, or maybe more space in Wendy’s mind. In any case there was a personal, familiar and unnerving quality to many of the things her daughter spent most of her time with, and she had been told by a medium friend that despite how things felt, the toys weren’t taking on life of their own, rather in rare cases overt and extended attention payed to lifeless objects attracted non-human persons, as she had put it clinically, which in turn viewed the objects as having life—this was the vibe she was picking up on—a consensus mentality occurring, collecting, gaining strength inside the house. John had picked up on the same spookiness on certain occasions—one time he had walked into Macy’s room and stopped dead because he felt like the small wooden soldier in Macy’s dollhouse were eyeing him. As a child and up until the early months of thirteen or fourteen Wendy had gone out rain or shine with a rolling pin to a cow bell that had hung from a chestnut tree to make it ring and cast away whatever she felt haunted her parent’s property. The ritual was something she was drawn to, kind of like a craving for tangerines when she was pregnant, the kind of superstition that lingers on account of its intuitive tenor, a feeling of assurance or closure or something, Wendy reflected. Things used to go missing on the farm. She was a tough young girl but didn’t like when things went missing, and didn’t like waking up to rattling on or under the floorboards, lights floating out on the moor like balls of fire. She didn’t like milk always going sour before its due, or coming out red and silky from the cow’s teat, scintillating like crushed glass. Those were the days when things started to piece together for her. Although she never could say she felt like objects in the house took on a peculiar sense of life, like things with faces, she did experience things that made her aware of the great crowd of people she competed with for space, for thoughts even, wrestling like old fence disputes of lore—thus far and no further. There was a torch-and-pitchfork way of thinking that people in that corner, those corners, tended to pick up and pass down, and she had learnt it like any other. She didn’t hit cowbells anymore though, and John would not allow sage burning or salt circles, or anything of the sort.
In the morning extra care was made to get the kids fed and ready early—bog had made the road into town especially tricky; the last moments of a grey storm filled the air with that briskness and wetness that one relished, inhaled again and again. The quickening kind that had the potential to clear the head and make things straight. John brought the truck round and the kids clambered in—hats, boots, bags, all. Wendy looked on toward the emptiness to follow. The sounds of whistles on the moor. The locomotives grazing steel and rubble. The mixed whispers of the others, well-nigh hers, something different, colourfast and resident.